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Cologne v. Westfarms Associates: A Turning Point for Protections Afforded to Political Speech by States' Constitutions

Connecticut Supreme Court History by the Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society, Volume VII, 2014

2014

Authors: Keegan Drenosky

Although the Connecticut Constitution was originally adopted in 1818, it was only in 1984 that the Connecticut Supreme Court considered perhaps the most important free speech case it has decided, after the Westfarms shopping mall had denied the National Organization for Women (NOW) access to its premises for the purpose of soliciting signatures in support of the pending Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1] The Supreme Court in its Cologne v. Westfarms Associates (1984) decision considered the application of Article I, Sections 4, 5, and 14 to the matter of public expression on privately owned land.[2] Before Westfarms, courts in several other states had considered this issue and whether their own state constitutions afforded greater free speech protection than that of the federal Constitution.[3] In the substantial majority of those cases, the courts interpreted their state constitutions to provide more expansive rights than did the U.S. Constitution, casting the federal protections as a floor upon which state constitutions could build. Thus, when counsel for NOW came before the Supreme Court of Connecticut to persuade the Justices to broaden civil liberties above this base through an expansive interpretation of Connecticut’s free speech clause, precedent was on their side.[4]

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[1] For background, see this volume for Donald Rogers, “Bombshell or Bellwether? The Story of Cologne v. Westfarms Associates,” Connecticut Supreme Court History 7 (2014): 1-28.

[2] 192 Conn. 48 (1984).

[3] See e.g., Batchelder v. Allied Stores Int’l, Inc., 445 N.E.2d 590 (Mass. 1983); Alderwood Assoc. v. Washington Envtl. Council, 635 P.2d 108 (Wash. 1981); Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Ctr., 592 P.2d 341 (Cal. 1979).

[4] NOW was represented by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. Christine A. Cologne was the president of the Greater Hartford Area Chapter of NOW. See, e.g., Robert Gettlin, “Property, Free-Speech Rights Collide in NOW Suit for Access to Westfarms,” Hartford Courant, Sept. 25, 1981, p. B3A.

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